Maybe the idea of stacking three different cuts of pork and calling it a sandwich seems like something they’d do at a Midwestern truck stop. Perhaps it occurs to you that a mound of meat might not be the best thing for the old waistline – or that ordering a menu item called “The Piggy” comes with a side of guilt by association.
If you are what you eat, though, this sandwich at Nancy Dean’s would put you in a pretty enviable state. Mild-tempered pulled pork is the foundation, lending an almost nutty disposition. Thick slabs of ham form the next layer – mellow, but with a tangy wink. Brown-sugar-coated bacon tops things off, offering a smoky haze.
On their own, none of these cuts really stand out. Brought into concert by a tangy, Carolina-inspired sauce, however, and – well, you’ll remember the three little pigs.
Owner and Chef Joseph Talley, along with his team, bring a flair to the sandwiches at Nancy Dean’s. Their “Veggie” is a roasted tomato sandwich that plays off a standard caprese, but adds grilled onions to bring the balsamic and reduced fruit together.
But there are moments when you wish that creative bent extended across the menu. There’s nothing wrong with melting cheese over tater tots and tossing on some pico de gallo. It’s a bit sophomoric for a restaurant, perhaps – these are pre-packaged tots covered in grocery store-quality cheese – but it’s homey and familiar. The “Tri-Tip Fries” eventually suffer the same fate as the “Tater Tot Nachos” (the cheese tends to cool and “set”). Fortunately it benefits from a chipotle aioli with a warm, smoky bite.
Both dishes are executed as well as needed. They just yearn for more attention to presentation and – especially – the quality of ingredients involved. Anyone could do as well or better with a few brand-name items from Lucky’s.
There’s no pretension here, although they can show off, with sandwiches and salads constructed of, say, roasted sweet potatoes, apples and beets. Yet much of the menu is truly approachable with burgers, mac and cheese, chicken tenders and meatloaf.
And there’s that staple of Southern church basement potlucks: fried chicken. There is a visual appeal to fried chicken, with its golden and crispy shell and juice dripping from the meat inside. On a Saturday evening visit to the place, however, the crust looked like wood scorched through by a California wildfire. The seasoning had been equally punished by heat, so only vague hints of spice remained – enough to suggest things were headed in the right direction, at least.
Even professionals overcook things on occasion. But most don’t allow such mistake to reach the dining room floor.
The restaurant is new and still finding its rhythm. There are moments when the homestyle Americana is appreciated, others when it is OK – ribs presented with just a drizzle of sauce so the focus is given to tender, but tame meat is an example. But their sandwiches are pretty solid.
NANCY DEAN’S, 598 Lighthouse Ave., Monterey. Tue-Sun 11am-9pm. 920-1940, nancydeans.com